Thailand's culture is a passive and superstitious one that relies on faith, fate and sheer luck, with the ingrained belief that things will always turn out just fine. After all, karma dictates our destiny, and we bribe her quite well. So mai pen rai.
This, of course, is a generalisation. There are many exceptions, but not enough of them, and so the generalisation rings loud and true.
Every other day, there could be news of tourists killed, raped and scammed. Every day there could be dual pricing, xenophobia, corrupt police, inept officials, outdated visa rules or the like _ none of these things matter. Tourists will keep coming, foreign residents will keep growing in number and businesses will keep pouring in money. Things are just fine.
Flood crisis? Political crisis? Relationship crisis? Personal crisis? There's no need to address the issues and prepare properly for the next disaster. Karma will see us through.
What do we do if things don't go our way?
Make donations/offerings at the temple. Hang garlands at the shrine and say a prayer. Rearrange the feng shui of our home and office. We also wear 15 amulets around our neck for good measure.
Buy caged birds and caught fish and release them. We do such good deeds and karma will take care of us well. Then those very same birds and fish are caught again and sold to the next bunch of do-gooders to be released again for the many happy returns promised to come. Not only will this solve life's problems, it's also economical.
Perhaps one might even enter the monkhood or nunnery for three days; the practice is so popular some temples are overbooked at certain times of the year. We don't even have to shave our heads to do this. But we don't forget to bring our iPhones so we can take pictures and update our Instagram accounts for our friends to share in our holy escapade. Not only will this make the entire next year excellent for us, we also get more "like" clicks than usual.
These are ways in which we solve problems _ and they work, at least in our minds. Look around: Despite natural disasters, political crises, fighting in the streets, unrequited love and what-not, we are just fine. Life goes on.
Even when we hit rock bottom it seems, considering the six years of political crisis, the coup and the many episodes of violence in the streets, plus the big flood. We know fate will see us through. As such, there's no need to rethink, reform or re-engineer. Tragedies and calamities come and go; meanwhile, the economy still pushes through and it's business as usual.
No civilians need climb up to the rooftop of the US embassy and try to jump into that last evacuating helicopter. There's No need for UN troops or Red Cross workers. Thailand knows no great catastrophes. We are just fine.
Change? Why? This is Thailand, things are not great, but they are never that bad either. Not since Myanmar sacked Ayutthaya anyway, but that was over two centuries ago.
Emergency protocol? Contingency plan? Vision? Mission? We don't need them. We'll just wing it.
Thailand need not be prepared for anything. Why? Because we are lucky. At the end of the day, things really are fine.
The upper and middle class may moan and groan about corruption, political crises and the like. But the sun still rises in the morning, and then we go to work, argue on social media about murderers, terrorists and a fugitive billionaire, watch soap operas, shop at Siam and party at Thong Lor. Life is good.
Likewise, members of the lower class may moan and groan and argue over those very same things. What we all have in common is that we make sure to give alms and make offerings/donations, and life will be just fine.
We are a happy people, regardless of what those happy indexes may say.
Take a fleet of motorbike taxis where each driver makes but 100, perhaps 200 baht per day, far below the 300 baht minimum wage. They are the happiest people you'll ever meet. They are just fine with their lives and worry not about the future.
Take a slum neighbourhood where residents get up in the morning, open their shops, roll out their pushcarts or put on their factory or department store uniforms. They might sit together at night, drinking and talking politics, but regardless, by and large they are always full of smiles and laughter, content with the lives they lead. Things are just fine and they are the nicest people you'll ever meet.
All three classes may talk of Armageddon, but that's because we like melodrama as a culture. By attitude and action, however, we know that things will work out just fine, no matter the tragedies or calamities. The Thai luck will hold.
From top to bottom, all classes have satellite TVs, mobile phones, Facebook pages and enough spare money to bet on the English Premier League. Life may not be great, but it isn't bad either. But just to make sure things will continue to be fine we give alms, make donations and release birds and fish only for them to be caught again, and release again, and caught again. It's the circle of life, quite literally.
If the monks of Thailand ride around in Mercedes Benzes and use the latest gadgets and software, it is only because of the Thai people's obsession with making donations to appease karma into providing many happy returns.
Who knows if anyone actually gets those returns, but at the end of it all, things may not be great, but they aren't bad either. Yes, we are just fine, so we continue with our ways.
However, living a life like this is like playing Russian roulette. Pull the trigger enough times and eventually you'll get the loaded chamber. But the Thai luck being what it is, the gun might not even be loaded at all, or the bullet may prove a dud.
It's a cultural generalisation _ with many, but not enough, exceptions _ that faith, fate and sheer luck defines where we are as a society. Where are we? In the middle of the pack in the global scheme of things, average and kept afloat, rather than falling into total disaster or launching into the top.
This is Thailand and things are just fine, at least thus far. And just to make sure we know that we are fine, we launch fancy PR campaigns to tell ourselves that we are, not just fine, but great. It's the art of pretending, which boosts the face value, while busting the core values.
Just think - if we actually rethink, reform and re-engineer, if we actually plan and prepare and make changes, then together with luck, fate and faith, we might actually be able to rise from the mediocre to become the magnificent.
Perhaps if I buy a monk an iPhone 5 on behalf of the country, karma will realise this dream for us.
Contact Voranai Vanijaka via email at email@example.com.
About the author
- Writer: Voranai Vanijaka
Position: Political and Social Commentator